What the heck is LVT?
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) has been installed
in commercial buildings for years, but
now it’s finding its way into more and
more homes. It looks like tile and is priced
similarly, and both are waterproof and
groutable, but there are big differences.
LVT is softer and feels warmer underfoot,
which is especially nice in bathrooms.
Ceramic is harder to scratch, however,
LVT won’t crack if you drop your cast
iron skillet. If a piece of LVT does get
damaged, it’s much easier to replace. It
has a lower profile, which makes it easier
to work with around cabinets, existing
door openings and transitions. LVT can
be installed over some existing flooring
and is far more DIY-friendly.
Meet the experts
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Nate and Andy
Our expert installers show how to install luxury vinyl tile (LVT).
We wanted to find out what
was behind all the buzz
about luxury vinyl tile
(LVT). Why are people
opting for vinyl when they
can get ceramic tile for
about the same price?
So we tracked down Andy
and Nate from Distinctive
Flooring in Burnsville, MN.
They’ve been installing LVT
floors for several years now
and told us that it’s the
fastest growing portion of
their business. Andy says,
“Our customers love it
because it feels good under
their feet and because there
are hundreds of colors and
patterns to choose from,
and we love it because it’s
easy to work with.” LVT is
definitely a DIY project,
especially with these tips
from the pros.
Prep the floor
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Photo 1: Fill gaps and seams
LVT will follow the profile of the existing subfloor, so make sure you fill in
seams, low spots and large gaps with floor patch.
LVT can be glued down directly to plywood
subfloors as long as the wood is smooth,
flat and structurally sound, but not over
wafer board, particleboard or oriented
strand board (OSB).
Most floors aren’t perfect, so find high
and low spots with a straightedge. Sand
down the high spots with a belt sander
using a 40- or 60-grit belt. This is a dusty
job, so turn off your furnace to avoid
spreading dust all over the house, and
wear a dust mask.
Fill the low spots (1/4-in. dip in 3 ft.),
gaps and seams in the plywood with
floor patch (Photo 1). If the plywood is in
pretty rough shape, the pros will skim-coat
the whole floor with floor patch.
This seems like a big job but takes only a
few minutes. Andy prefers Ardex Feather
Finish but says the products sold at
home centers will work too. Buy a
Portland cement-based product—the
gypsum-based patches crack easier.
Henry and SimplePrep are two other
LVT can be installed directly over concrete,
but the concrete must be at least
six weeks old, proven to be dry, and free
of powder and flaking. It also needs to be free of solvent, wax, grease, oil, paint and
any other sealing compounds. Large
cracks and expansion joints should be
filled and troweled smooth. The same
floor patch you would use on wood
floors should also work for concrete.
Dealing with trim
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Photo 2: Trim jambs and casing
Undercut door trim so you can slip tiles underneath. Use a tile and underlayment as a guide. If you don’t have an oscillating saw, a handsaw will work just fine.
Your installation will be easier and you’ll
end up with a cleaner look if you remove
the base trim before you install the new
floor. However, if the new LVT floor will be
lower than the floor you removed, you
may want to leave the base on. If the base
trim is removed and reinstalled lower,
there will be a noticeable gap on the wall,
which may require painting. If you don’t
want to mess with painting, install base
shoe molding at the bottom of the trim.
There’s no reason to pull off door trim,
unless the new floor is going to be significantly
lower and you need to install
longer casing or rehang the door. You’ll
have to trim off a bit of the casing if the
new floor will be higher. An oscillating
tool works great to accomplish this task.
An upside-down tile and whatever
underlayment you plan on using are the
perfect height for a guide (Photo 2).
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Photo 3: Install underlayment
Roll out the underlayment and tape the seams. If your existing floor is in good
shape, you might be able to skip this step and glue the tile directly to the floor.
If your wooden subfloor is in really rough
shape, install 1/4-in. plywood underlayment
Another option is to install a vinyl
underlayment. This will allow you to lay
LVT over all sorts of surfaces: plywood,
particleboard, OSB, ceramic tile, sheet
vinyl or painted cement. Buy the product
recommended by the tile manufacturer.
One thing to consider when using a
vinyl underlayment: The tile is adhered
to the vinyl, but the vinyl is not attached
to anything else, so the floor will “float”
above the surface. The only drawback to a floating floor is that
it expands and contracts
more than a
means you’ll have to
leave a 1/4-in. gap
around the perimeter
of the room and all
floor vents to allow
for expansion. And
avoid setting more
than one extremely
heavy object (pool
table, piano, large
bookcase) in a room with a floating
floor—pinning the flooring down in two
or more locations won’t allow it to
expand between those points, which
may cause the flooring to buckle.
Vinyl underlayment is easy to install.
Just lay it down, cut it with a knife or
heavy-duty scissors, and tape the seams
with packing tape (Photo 3). We used
Mannington underlayment, which costs
40¢ per sq. ft.
Whichever underlayment you choose,
you’ll still have to knock down ridges and
fill in the severe dips in the subfloor. And
underlayment is not a solution to a
rotten or structurally unsound subfloor.
Lay out the pattern
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Photo 4: Mark the first tile location
Once you have your layout figured out, use a tile to mark the location of the
first tile. Make sure it’s by the door, where you’ll have to start tiling.
Balance is the key to any good layout. Try
to avoid ending with a row of narrow
tiles along any wall (Figure A). And if at all
possible, center either a grout line or a
full tile in the middle of the doorway
(Figure B). Nate starts by snapping two
centerlines dividing the room into four
equal quarters. He measures from those
lines to determine the layout. If math
isn’t your strong suit, just lay a few tiles
next to those lines at several places in
the room to see how it will all work.
Don’t forget to figure in the grout lines.
A room rarely works out perfectly, so
expect to make compromises. In this case,
Nate opted to start with full tiles near the
door, which left almost full ones on the
opposite side of the room. He also chose
to center a tile in the door opening even
though that left smaller tiles along the
walls next to the tub. Nate was able to use
the first centerline he snapped, but that’s
rare. You’ll likely have to measure from
that centerline to find the location for
your first tile.
Once you’ve decided on your layout,
mark a set of guidelines for the first tile to be installed. Make these marks close
to the door; that’s where you need to
start. Nate uses a tile to mark the location
Figure A: Bad tile layout
Figure B: Good tile layout.
Figures A and B: Laying out the tile
When laying out the tile, avoid leaving skinny tiles at the edges. The layout in Figure A leaves too many skinny tiles around the edges. The layout in Figure B works better, with tiles that are at least half-width all around the edges. However, note that the edges all had to be cut to slightly different widths to make the layout work.
Glue your way out
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Photo 5: Spread the adhesive
Spread the adhesive with a small notched trowel. Cover every inch, and don’t
leave puddles. Start at the end of the room and work your way toward the door.
Start spreading the adhesive in the area
of the room farthest from the door. If you
don’t, you’ll literally glue yourself into a
corner. Buy the adhesive recommended
by your flooring manufacturer, and
spread it with a trowel that has the recommended
tooth size and spacing (usually
1/16 in. to 1/32 in.; Photo 5). Avoid
creating puddles, and make sure every
inch of the floor gets covered.
The drying time for the product Nate
used was 15 to 45 minutes. Temperature
and humidity greatly affect drying times.
When the adhesive is ready for installing
the tile, it will change to a lighter color.
And if you press your finger into the glue,
the floor should feel sticky, but no adhesive
should stick to your finger when you
pull it away. The adhesive should dry
clear enough so that you can see your
lines. Wet glue can be cleaned up with
water, but you’ll need mineral spirits to
clean it up once it’s dry.
Tile your way in
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Photo 6: Lay the first tile carefully
Position the first tile perfectly, because all the other tiles in the room will line
up with that one.
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Photo 7: Slide tiles under trim
Once a tile is laid flat on the glue, it’s stuck. In order to set a tile under jambs
and casing trim, hold the back side of a tile just barely off the floor and slide it into
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Photo 8: Position tiles with spacers
Set in tile spacers the same way you would for ceramic tile. The spacers will
stick to the floor adhesive, so you’ll have to pry them out with a small screwdriver.
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Photo 9: Heat tiles to cut curves
If you have to make a cut other than a straight line, heat the tile with a heat
gun and you’ll be able to cut right through it. Straight lines don’t require heat—just
score and snap. Protect the floor with cardboard and a spare tile.
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Photo 10: Cut with a utility knife
You can cut LVT with just a utility knife. That means you don’t have to run
back and forth to a saw every time you need to make a cut. An upside-down tile
and a little cardboard make an excellent cutting station.
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Photo 11: Set the tiles with a roller
A 100-lb. roller provides consistent pressure to
permanently set the tiles in place. Roll each tile from at least two directions.
Since all the other tiles rely on the position
of the first one, it’s critical that you
set the first tile straight (Photo 6). Unlike
ceramic tile, LVT tiles stay put, so you
can work your way into the room without
waiting. When sliding tiles under
doorjambs and door trim, lift up on the
back of the tile and carefully slide it into
place (Photo 7). You’ll only have a little
wiggle room once you drop the tile flat.
Regular tile spacers work fine, but keep
the grout lines smaller than 1/4 in. (Photo
8). Nate likes to pull out his spacers as he
goes so he doesn’t need to use as many.
The spacers will get stuck in the glue, so
you’ll have to pry them out with a small
screwdriver. Lay down all your full tiles first, and come back to finish the ones
that need cutting.
Be sure the tiles are the same temperature
as the room you’re putting them in,
and check to see that the lot numbers on
the containers are the same so you don’t
get noticeable color variations. Mix tiles
from different containers as you go. Also,
there are arrows on the bottom of each
tile. Some manufacturers have you keep
the arrows all the same direction; others
have you rotate every other tile a quarter turn.
This is to ensure a varied pattern.
The best thing about installing LVT is
how easy it is to cut. All you have to do is
score it with a utility knife and break it in
two: no wet-saw mess, no grinder dust,
no trips to a cut station, and no broken
tiles! If you have to cut a hole or a curve,
heat the tile with a heat gun first (Photo
9). Protect the floor as you cut (Photo 10).
The last step before grouting is to press
the tiles flat with a 100-lb. roller (Photo
11). Most tile manufacturers require this
step; don’t skip it or cheat with a rolling
pin or laminate roller. You can rent a roller at a rental center.
Use a carpet bar for transitions between different
There are a thousand and one ways
to transition from one floor surface
to another. Probably the easiest and
cheapest is to install a carpet bar. A hammer and a hacksaw
are all you need
to install it.
Grout the tiles
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Photo 12: Spread the grout
To lessen the mess, use the
narrow end of a rigid rubber float to
work the grout into the joints. Scrape
off the excess in a 45-degree motion.
Buy the grout the manufacturer recommends.
Never use cement-based grout;
it’s too brittle and it will crack. Pack the
joints with a rigid rubber float. Remove
the excess at a 45-degree angle. To reduce
the area that will have to be cleaned,
don’t plow the grout all over the tile as you would with ceramic tile—use the
narrow end of the trowel and cover only
the gaps between tiles (Photo 12). Do a
15- to 20-sq.-ft. section at a time. Wait a
few minutes before you clean the tiles
with water and sponges.
When you clean up the grout, don’t
use too much water. That can cause the
grout to pull away from the tile. Just mist
the tile with a spray bottle. Go back and
wipe it with a thoroughly wrung-out
sponge. Wipe gently—you don’t want to
pull the grout right out of the joints.
Start in a closet or other inconspicuous
area. If any tiles are still a little hazy the
next day, clean them with mineral spirits
or ammonia. Stay off the floor for 24
hours, keep pets off it and avoid washing
it for a few days. You can either caulk or grout between the tile and showers, tubs
and cabinets. Caulk all gaps larger than
1/4 in. Reinstall the trim and your toilet.